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Let Them Have Mac

By John Virata
If Coca Cola settles a case before it goes to court, does it pay with cases of Coca Cola? If a plastic surgeon settles a claim before going to court, does the plastic surgeon offer free plastic surgery as payment? If you are Microsoft, you can get away with giving away software as a remedy.

Microsoft Corp. seems to have dodged all the balls thrown at it when it comes to antitrust issues. It successfully came away virtually unscathed in its wranglings with the Department of Justice over its abuse of its monopoly of operating systems, and last week, as part of a proposed settlement of private, class action status lawsuits that accused Microsoft of overcharging consumers for its software, seems to have not only got off pretty lightly, but gets to push its software on "disadvantaged" school districts throughout the United States as part of yet another antitrust settlement. This proposed settlement, if approved by U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz, will let Microsoft donate $1 billion in software and refurbished computers, to some 12,500 of the poorest schools in the country which educate more than 7 million students. This avoids long and costly litigation for the company and at the same time, really makes a difference in the lives of millions of school children in some of the most economically disadvantaged schools, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said last week at the announcement of the proposed settlement. Ballmer also pointed out that this proposed settlement, as was the DOJ's antitrust settlement, is good for the U.S. economy. It seems that everything Microsoft has successfully litigated, in and out of Court is "good" for the economy. Does that mean it is good for consumers? Or in this case, is it good for students?

There are good points and bad points to the proposed settlement, as some attorneys general in several states that are opposed to this settlement have pointed out. On the one hand, computer technology will be made available to thousands of students who otherwise wouldn't necessarily be exposed to the latest in computer technology, which is a great thing. On the other hand, Microsoft would be getting away with donating software and refurbished computers, software with which the company can further its monopoly, not only by merely giving it away as a proposed settlement, but hooking users at a young age to its products. Though the company denies it, and claims that schools can buy non-Microsoft software for its students, it will most likely be difficult for schools to resist free computers running the Windows OS and productivity software such as Microsoft Office or Front Page. Windows-based PCs are cheaper than most offerings from Apple Computer, which stands to further lose marketshare to PC-clones running the Windows OS if the proposed settlement is approved.

It is easy to understand Microsoft's logic in offering to settle the case with software and hardware to run the software on. Microsoft is a peddler of software, that is how it makes money. Why would Microsoft want to pay out large sums of money when it can give away something that is already developed, such as its Windows OS?

People are already unhappy with the proposed settlement, so what would a good remedy be in this case? Microsoft wants to donate $1 billion in software and refurbished computers to run that software on in lieu of settling with a dollar figure. What is a good remedy? What percentage of computers in this settlement are Macintosh computers? If Microsoft wants to appease critics on the subject of "hooking them while they are young" or "extending its monopoly," let the schools choose Macintosh computers entirely, (or if they want, Windows PCs) and let Microsoft buy productivity apps for these computers like Photoshop Elements, Adobe Premiere, Corel's graphics suite of applications, and other non-Microsoft productivity software. Give the students who get to use these computers the power to be creative and the power to do their best.

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com
Related Keywords:microsoft, antitrust


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